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February 12, 2014 - by City Guide

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No New York neighborhood has changed more over the years than SoHo. Located directly south of Houston Street on the west side of Manhattan (bordered by Lafayette Street to the east, Canal Street to the south, Varick Street to the west), SoHo is a friendly, beautiful, and history-rich section of New York that is home to some of the best shopping, dining, and avant-garde art.

For most of the 20th century, however, SoHo was a rundown and neglected slum of manufacturers and wholesalers. Forced to relocate due to increasing rents and limited space, artists in the mid-1960s fled to the large, open loft spaces of SoHo. Attracted by the immense room, abundance of natural light, and low-to-non-existent rents, SoHo became the new headquarters for the New York art scene. Galleries quickly followed, bringing a substantial amount of money into the area -- along with the new chic art crowd.

Today SoHo is trendy, eclectic, and always bustling with activity. Tourists and locals alike flock to this neighborhood. Stores range from national chains to unique boutiques, from Marc Jacobs, to H&M, to The Evolution Store (a store that sells natural history collectibles usually found only in museums.) The larger stores are concentrated on Broadway and smaller stores fan out from there.

There is also the New York City Fire Museum, which tells the history of the New York City Fire Department, the famous Angelika Film Center, and the Children's Museum of Arts. In SoHo the possibilities never end.

This last transformation of SoHo was certainly not the first. In the late 18th century, SoHo was a suburb in what was once the north end of the city. As Manhattan grew so did SoHo, and it soon became a bustling midtown of hotels, restaurants, and shops.

The city was growing at an unstoppable pace, and soon textile factories, import-export houses, and wholesalers moved into the area. The lack of substantial fire code laws and unsafe working conditions led to many dangerous and deadly fires. Firefighters dubbed the area "Hell's Hundred Acres."

The large number of fires added to the popularity of a new concept in architecture: the use of cast-iron. The cast-iron buildings of SoHo acted as a bridge between the individually crafted architecture of brick, limestone, and marble and the assembly-line glass-and-steel approach of the latter half of the century. The buildings were successful mergers of an old-world beauty and detail, as well as new-world mass production.

However, what started as a way of assembling buildings quickly and cheaply turned into one of modern architecture's greatest achievements. Early designers favored the "palazzo" style and copied the Italian Renaissance palaces. Architects were also influenced by the French Second Empire, Baroque balustrades and Renaissance columns. A prime example of this is the Haughwout Building, located on the northeast corner of Broome and Broadway. Though decreed as landmarks in 1973, the beauty of these buildings were not always appreciated. SoHo was more or less abandoned by business in the middle of the 20th century.

The area seemed destined to remain abandoned until the influx of artists unable to afford work spaces anywhere else in the city. The artists brought a certain aesthetic to the area, and with their successful renovation of work and living spaces came cafes, restaurants, and galleries ready to cater to the growing population. One of our favorite restaurants, Cafe Bari, offers Mediterranean dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Established, thriving, and commercial, SoHo is certainly no longer the bohemian center of the 1970s. It has once again transformed itself, and there is no reason to believe that SoHo will stop now.

Dining in SoHo quick links: Cafe Bari.

Nightlife in SoHo quick links: Broome Street Bar.

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